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IRAN: Report says U.S. waging secret war

June 29, 2008 | 11:10 am


An explosive article by veteran New Yorker investigative reporter Seymour Hersh alleges that the U.S. has secretly allocated up to $400 million to run covert operations against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Hersh alleges that the Bush administration is funding Iranian Arab and Baluchi militant groups as well other groups including possible Kurdish rebels and the Mujahedin Khalq, or MKO, a cult-like militant group with offices in Paris and fighters in Iraq that opposes the Islamic Republic. The money was also to be used to dig up intel on Iran's nuclear program, a source of major friction between Tehran and the West.

The report alleges that the Bush administration briefed Congressional leaders about the stepped up activity late last year.

"Clandestine operations against Iran are not new," Hersh writes, in a report that will appear in the July 7 and 14 issue of the New Yorker. "But the scale and the scope of the operations ... have now been significantly expanded."

The Los Angeles Times reported in April about the kaleidescope of Iranian separatist groups along Iran's borders, some of which said they were receiving help or would welcome funds and weapons from the U.S. to fight the Iranian government.

"None of the groups appear to pose a serious threat to Iran, but Tehran regards them as Washington’s allies in an effort to pressure it to scale back its nuclear program and withhold support for militant groups fighting Israel," the Times report said.

Iran is closely watching these developmments. In an exclusive interview with the Times last week, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini said there was "plentiful" evidence that the U.S. was waging a secret war against Iran, which included funding dissident groups, planting bombs and supporting militants such as the ethnic Baluchi group Jundollah, cited in the Hersh article as a potential recipient of U.S. aid.

Last week, Iranian media picked up a report about a meeting between U.S. officials and Iranian Kurdish rebels at a hotel in the Iraqi city of Sulaymaniya. According to the report, originally carried by a Kurdish website, 10 U.S. military officers met with the leaders of four Iranian Kurdish groups.

A correspondent in Tehran predicted the government would use Hersh's report as a "trophy" to bolster ts longstanding allegations of U.S. meddling in Iran and to give it an excuse to clamp down even harder on domestic dissidents.

But that may be the point, Hersh wrote. "One possible consequence of the operations would be a violent Iranian crackdown on one of the dissident groups, which could give the Bush administration a reason to intervene," he wrote.

Ethnic Persians make up slighty more than half of Iran's 70 million or so population. The bulk of the rest are ethnic Azeris, who actually enjoy a fairly privileged status within Iranian political and business circles. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, for example, is an ethnic Azeri.

But Iran's ethnic Kurds, Baluchis and Arabs fare more poorly. They are mostly Sunni, while most Iranians are Shiites. Even before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which overthrew the pro-U.S. government, they chafed under Tehran's rule.

The most militarily effective and best organized of the anti-Iranian groups is the Kurdish organization PEJAK, which has become somewhwat off-limits to the U.S. because it is very close to the PKK, which fights NATO member Turkey.

Critics also argue that unlike Iraq, Lebanon or the former Yugoslavia, all cobbled together hastily, Iran is no colonial invention. It's been around for thousands of years and is unlikely to disintegrate so easily.

Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Fighters of anti-Iranian Kurdish rebel group PEJAK sit at their camp in the Qandil mountains in Iraq, Sunday, May 4, 2008. Credit: Yahya Ahmed / Associated Press